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Winning Women In Asia-Pacific - Two Leaders Speak

Wendy Spires

4 August 2020

No institution can afford to ignore the burgeoning power of women as earners, creators and stewards of wealth. The imperative is even more urgent for wealth managers in the dynamic Asia-Pacific region as the baton is passed to the next generation of empowered women. 

Here, we get a high-level view of this topic from Reto Marx, head of Intermediaries and Private Banking, VP Bank Ltd Singapore Branch, and Madame Wang Dian, CEO of , research partners for our latest  report, Winning Women in Asia-Pacific: Insights for wealth managers direct from female clients. 

To download your free copy, please complete the form at the bottom of this article.

WBA: How would you characterise the women’s wealth management scene in Asia-Pacific currently and how do you see it developing in the near term?
Madame Wang Dian: “The wealth management industry in Asia, traditionally, worked around a matriarch prototype - often characterised by humble roots, fascinating successes in empire building, extensive and sometimes intricate clan dynamics, and suggestions of letting go and passing the baton being brushed aside.

“Such prototypes still hold true today, for many clients, but not for all of them. The great socio-economic progress made by Asian economies in the past three decades meant diversity in clients, which requires a diversity of approaches.

“As women assume leadership roles in industry and commerce, and take driving seats in the affairs of many dynastic families, the classic positioning of wealth managers as ‘humble servant’ should be complemented with ‘loyal regent’, as women look to their wealth managers for true partnership, stronger empathy, and a calibrated ‘devil’s advocate’.

“Professional services firms will increasingly reorient their mindsets and services towards women clients, not as ‘Oh-don’t-forget-the-daughter’ tinkering, but as part of the broader effort to acknowledge and serve all stakeholders in the wealth eco-system.”

Reto Marx: “Having spent two decades in Asia and experiencing its culture, I do support Mdm Wang’s views. In my experience, wealth management (as compared with the affluent or retail segments) has generally been characterised as male dominant. Over the years, women in wealth management have been growing steadily in influence and economic clout, and the same applies for their leadership within the corporate world. 

“Wealth management institutions will inevitably need to give more attention to these female investors, recognising their values and motivations to ensure they are adequately served. Through this report, we hope to further deepen the industry’s stakeholders’ understanding of the importance of women’s drivers to provide more tailored and holistic wealth management advice.”

WBA: Female entrepreneurs are a force to be reckoned with in Asia-Pacific, but they do still face challenges. How can wealth managers help women overcome them and power-up their businesses?
Madame Wang Dian: “Women entrepreneurs are actually well placed to thrive in Asia’s commercial world. The symbiosis between business and community, the importance of bringing everyone on board, the criticality of details, and the open mind to hear different views before forming one’s own - these attributes underlie many of the entrepreneurial success stories in Asia.

“Meanwhile, women do face challenges: how to talk to a capital market which is in another jurisdiction, how to embrace tech with shrewd investments into the right option, how to reconcile the clashing claims by stakeholders when a company reaches a certain stage of size and success, and how to take tough decisions quickly when the world moves abruptly and unexpectedly. The list goes on.

“To help women clients handle these challenges, the ‘loyal regent’ is probably the right model, whereby the wealth managers must do more thinking from the ‘principal’ perspective, assume more ownership, align in-house resources for a journey, not merely for tasks, and not just listen, but speak emphatically and candidly, to offer guidance over an extended period of time, and never shy away from hard work and complexity.”

Reto Marx: “It is essential to recognise diversity and differences and, regardless of gender, adopt a personalised approach to cater to each client’s individual needs and priorities. It is about being really client-focused and playing an active and listening ear to them. By listening carefully, wealth managers can become a great sparring-partner beyond just financial advice, helping women gain more financial confidence and realise a stronger sense of empowerment.”

WBA: How do you see women’s role in driving the ESG agenda and do you think the pandemic will accelerate change? Are female family members pushing this agenda at the UHNW level? 
Madame Wang Dian: “In my view, ESG is fundamentally about balancing and looking after all stakeholders. The pandemic, seismic and tragic, has reminded all of us that the world is immensely interconnected and human welfare indeed transcends GDP, profits, and merely ‘fairer cutting of the pie’.

“Women, by instinct, take a holistic view of the family and community’s interests, now and in the future. This broader purview makes women ideal champions for ESG causes.

“In my daily conversations with UHNW clients, I have seen female members take the lead in understanding ESG issues, seeking remedial ideas, and - when investment decisions are being discussed - bringing the ESG angles into discussions. ESG is not and should not be portfolio filters or thematic overlays, but a re-ordering of our pursuits. This elevation is to a very large extent powered by women.”

Reto Marx: “While ESG is establishing itself on the agenda of Asian investors these days, the historical norm of women playing a more nurturing role and harnessing greater interest in doing good, and applying values to their financial decisions, is really driving the ESG agenda. 

“Before the crisis, demand and interest in sustainable investing were gaining traction. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the intensifying threats of environmental and climate-related risks, and further exposed inequality issues such as income. Our interactions with clients suggest the growing trend in ESG could also be significantly bolstered due to women gaining access to and accruing more wealth, and wanting to invest into financial opportunities that align with their values. For instance, VP Bank Group’s head of sustainability is female too, and well versed in impact solutions.”       

WBA: VP Bank and Hywin Wealth both have strong female representation in their workforces. What has been your approach to building this and what benefits do you see?
Madame Wang Dian: “Both Hywin Wealth and VP Bank are meritocratic organisations. Our respect for diversity, promotion of heterogeneity, and the accommodating and adaptive organisational cultures all make it possible for talented women to advance and triumph.

“Meanwhile, wealth managers are meant to be the bridge between clarity and ambiguity, facts and sentiments, certainty and fluidity; unsurprisingly, women are well equipped to master these paradoxes. At Hywin and VP Bank, I have seen female RMs and specialists solve complex problems for clients with finesse, and female leaders exert a warm, empowering influence on their teams.”

Reto Marx: “It is widely agreed that gender diversity can lead to a more prudent approach in decision-making, increase productivity and as a result improve corporate performance. A more diversified workforce can also mean better skills in problem solving and the creation of more innovative ideas and solutions for our clients. 

“Both VP Bank and Hywin Wealth are likeminded and committed to inclusion and diversity. We believe embracing diversity encourages a more open exchange of ideas. Female advisors have a unique ability to connect with clients and develop strong relationships that are based on trust, which has proven beneficial to clients. What matters is the advisor's ability to understand and respond to clients’ needs by creating a unique client experience to drive success.” 

WBA: Do you see any sub-segments of women as particularly in need of thought-leadership around wealth management, or any particular issues to be highlighted?
Madame Wang Dian:
“One thing I have noticed is that, to some female beneficiaries of large family trusts, the yearly distribution, exactly because of its pre-ordained nature, could feel formulaic, and very impersonal. Especially when the older generation is no longer around, the inspiration, guidance, and recognition of achievements may be sorely missing. That’s why Hywin is increasingly setting up ‘the council of regents’ for family trusts, as the distribution committee and more importantly as a gathering of trusted seniors who take genuine interest in the wellbeing of the young generations, and work as a coach and mentor for them. 

“Also, some female directors joining the boards of large companies can feel a bit disoriented at the beginning. How to understand the onerous obligations, how to hold the management accountable, how to chair sub-committees, and how to interact with advisors are all weighty questions. Wealth managers, being large and sometimes listed companies themselves, are very well positioned to enlighten and advise.”

Reto Marx: “We have made similar observations on our front. Regardless, women have made incredible strides, professionally, financially, and personally. In general, women are adept at financial empowerment when it comes to wealth matters through active participation in financial decisions. At VP Bank, we believe in equipping them with the right tools and digital services to ensure that every point of their wealth management journey goes safely.”

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